Insurance Executive: Let’s Not Force Consumers to Play Roulette When Buying Basic Health Services

Sharing information about the most common charges will empower consumers who now pay nearly $.5 trillion each year for health care

MILWAUKEE, July 2 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Politicians and policy experts have plenty of Big Ideas about what needs to be done to fix our health care system. Raj Bal has a more modest proposal, which would not only be relatively simple and easy to implement, but also enable millions of consumers to make better decisions.

“Let’s agree to share with consumers some basic information about charges for common physician office visits and hospital procedures,” writes Bal, Chief Operating Officer for Assurant Health, in a column published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on June 24. “It’s difficult to justify why, when two consumers visit the same physician for the exact same reason, they will be charged different fees depending on their insurance coverage.

“Consumers shouldn’t have to play roulette with the numbers hidden when base charges for something as simple as treating a child’s ear infection can range from $50 to $150. And when you consider that Americans make 890 million physician office visits each year, any extra costs will quickly add up.”

Instead of a prescriptive plan, Bal offers broad guidelines and suggestions on how we can begin to move towards greater pricing transparency, including:

  — To simplify matters, start with just the 4-6 most prevalent treatments
that account for most visits to primary care physicians.

— Work with physicians and hospitals to reach consensus on their need to
self-report this information without government involvement.

— Give individuals who now have greater financial responsibility for
payments access to the full-price charges that will appear on their
bills or be deducted from the health savings accounts.

Bal notes that taking this small step towards greater price transparency will further accelerate the trend toward consumer-directed health care, which already is a more powerful force than most people realize. Today, individuals directly pay nearly $.5 trillion on health care — the same amount paid by their employers — and more than six million of them are enrolled in consumer-directed health plans.

As HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt commented on the federal government’s price transparency initiative, “As we give consumers better information on how their health care dollars are spent, they will demand more value for their money, and the result will be better treatment at lower costs.”

“We all benefit when we can help consumers make the best decisions about managing both their health and their medical costs,” concurs Bal. “Let’s start right now by knocking down one obstacle at a time, beginning with doctors’ and hospitals’ fees for the most frequently used services.”

For a copy of Bal’s column or to arrange an interview with him, please contact Peter Duckler, 312-423-4930, [email protected].

About Assurant Health

Assurant Health has been in business since 1892 and is the brand name for products underwritten and issued by Time Insurance Company, John Alden Life Insurance Company and Union Security Insurance Company. Together, these three underwriting companies provide health insurance coverage for almost one million people nationwide. Each underwriting company is financially responsible for its own insurance products. Primary products include individual medical, small group, short term and student health insurance products, as well as non-insurance products and consumer-choice products such as Health Savings Accounts and Health Reimbursement Arrangements. With almost 3,000 employees, Assurant Health is headquartered in Milwaukee, Wis., and has operations offices in Minnesota, Idaho and Florida, as well as sales offices across the country. The Assurant Health Web site is

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Source: Assurant Health